The WWF is, on immediate impressions, a reputable organisation and it’s hard to imagine the brand with the cute panda logo falling into disrepute. But London-based environmental and human rights organisation Global Witness recently challenged WWF’s reputation when it released a report accusing member companies of reaping the benefits of association with WWF and its iconic panda brand, while they continue to destroy forests and trade in illegally sourced timber.
The Global Witness report called (spot the pun), Pandering to the Loggers, points to a number of companies involved in the WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN), a flagship scheme to promote sustainable timber, who are being anything but sustainable
Take Ta Ann Holdings Berhad, for example, which is a paying member of the scheme. According to Global Witness, the company has forest operations destroying rainforest at the equivalent rate of 20 football pitches a day. The areas being destroyed by a Ann Holdings Berhad include orang-utan habitat within the boundaries of WWF’s own ‘Heart of Borneo’ project.
Another member, UK building supplier Jewson, had failed to eliminate illegally sourced timber 10 years after joining the scheme. A third timber company, the Swiss- German Danzer Group, has a subsidiary which has been repeatedly involved in conflicts with local communities resulting in human rights abuses, including allegations of rapes and beatings by state forces, yet the Danzer Group continues to enjoy membership to the scheme.
Among the key issues with GFTN, Global Witness pointed to:
- GFTN lacks transparency and accountability; the scheme is opaque, with little or no information in the public domain about the performance of individual participating companies, or the impact of the scheme itself;
- GFTN’s membership and participation rules are wholly inadequate, allowing some companies to systematically abuse the scheme;
- GFTN lacks proper monitoring and enforcement mechanisms;
- There is no adequate procedure in place for independently evaluating the scheme on forest sustainability.
"When a landmark scheme created in the name of sustainability and conservation tolerates one of its member companies destroying orang-utan habitat, something is going seriously wrong,” said Tom Picken, forest campaign leader at Global Witness. “Through government grants, taxpayers are footing a large part of this scheme’s annual £4m [US$ 7m] budget and they have a right to know their money isn’t being spent greenwashing bad practice.”
Global Witness is now calling for an independent and comprehensive evaluation of GFTN rules, transparency procedures and the scheme’s impact on forests. It says WWF must make membership of the scheme conditional on companies following sustainable, ethical and legal practices and prohibit any company from participating if it continues to destroy natural forest, trade in illegal timber, or is involved in human rights abuses.
“WWF should publicly disassociate itself from any company using timber from illegal or unethical sources. It’s shocking that one of the world’s most trusted conservation groups deems it acceptable to take money from such companies,” said Picken.
But WWF, which has been around since 1961, has been quick to respond to the report allegations, issuing the following statement:
“For 20 years, the Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) has worked successfully to create a global marketplace for sustainably sourced forest products. The programme now includes approximately 300 companies, communities, NGOs in more than 30 countries around the world.
“GFTN believes in providing practical solutions that allow companies to develop and implement region-specific strategies that promote responsible forestry and trade, combat illegal logging and protect some of planet’s most valuable resources.”
Head of GFTN George White said: “We believe the private sector can be a significant positive force to save the world’s most valuable and threatened forests... Of course, some GFTN partners have a way to go on their journey to sustainability. But these are precisely the companies that should be in GFTN, and we applaud their commitments to improving their environmental performance. Companies caught flouting the rules and spirit of GFTN will be removed from the network.”